John Dragonetti

Songwriter Profile: John Dragonetti - The Return of Jack Drag

He has no shortage of ongoing endeavors, notes songwriter, composer and producer John Dragonetti. “You’ve got to do a lot of things to survive as a musician,” he confirms. “You’re lucky if you can do it just making records. For me, it’s a combination of making records, and if I’m lucky some of the material gets licensed plus scoring and producing.”

As a composer, Dragonetti has scored indie features, including the recent comedy All About Nina, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Common; television shows on FX and AMC, and music for commercials including Volkswagen, Lexus and Coca-Cola. He has crafted remixes, and produced Dylan Gardner’s 2014 debut Adventures in Real Time.

Dragonetti’s backstory includes a series of releases released under the name “Jack Drag” that he recorded from 1998 - 2002, after which he formulated The Submarines with Blake Hazard. The band released three projects for Nettwerk Records.

Now the wildly eclectic label Burger Records is releasing 2018, Dragonetti’s latest 10-song project, recorded at his home studio in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles. It bookends the label’s release of Dragonetti’s early four-track recordings culled from 1994.

“I was writing songs not knowing that I wanted to put it together as an album,” he says of 2018. “I’ve been focused on scoring work and producing, so I haven’t had a lot of time to do a lot of songwriting, but I was feeling it––this is the first project since The Submarines. I was trying to think of new band names for, like, a month, and then a friend of mine said, ‘Why don’t you put it out as a Jack Drag project?’”

Dylan Gardner joins Dragonetti as a co-writer and additional vocalist on “Little Lies” which also features Aimee Mann. “I worked with Dylan on his very first album. I think he was 16, this kid just full of talent whose energy was so inspiring. I had this instrumental piece of music that became ‘Little Lies.’ I was stumped melodically and he came over.” Dragonetti says that he waited until the 11th hour to invite Mann to participate as a vocalist, and she also added lyrics.

“I’ve known Aimee over the years. I wanted to ask her, but I chickened out. I waited until it was a couple of weeks before I had a mastering date. It was terrifying but she was so cool.” Other musicians contributing to the project include singer and violinist Sarah Martin, from Belle & Sebastian, and Mike Sawitzke of the Eels + Dispatch who added horn arrangements and mixing expertise. 11-year-old Lucinda Linklater sings on “Bloody Noses.”

Dragonetti includes one cover, the wistful “I Am Not Willing,” originally recorded by Moby Grape for their album ‘69. “I didn’t know if I should mess with it, but I had an urge,” he says. “The song is so epic in its simplicity.”

While Dragonetti has historically been a purveyor of a low-fi sound, sonic shimmers and insistent hooks illuminate his songs and productions. “I’m interested in building a sound around a song,” he says. Real horns add to the gravitas. “Those get faked a lot,” says Dragonetti. “I didn’t want to skimp.”
“Chelsea Moon” was inspired by New York revelry explains Dragonetti. “My girlfriend and I were there for work stuff. It happened to be Gay Pride week. There was a carnival on the street, and the song got me thinking about a lot of things. There was partying going on in the city and it struck up a lot of images for me. Ultimately, it’s a love song.”

With his aforementioned composing and producing projects, Dragonetti, isn’t envisioning putting a band together and touring the hinterlands. He will remain cloistered in his studio on a quiet street not far from his local Trader Joe’s market. While he notes the presence of garage rock, surf rock and psychedelic bands among the local musicians, he’s not positive that there is a definitive Northeast Los Angeles sound. “The neighborhood is changing so much, with so many more artists moving in,” he says. “It attracts––even as it did in the old days––some eccentrics.”

Contact Brendan Bourke, The Syndicate, Brendan@thesyn.com